Nov 22, 8:47 AM EST

US unemployment benefit claims drop 13,000 to 239,000 last week, sign of strong labor market


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WASHINGTON (AP) -- The number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits fell for the first time in three weeks, pushing total applications down to a low 239,000, further evidence of the strength of the labor market.

The NUMBERS: Applications dropped by 13,000 last week after rising by 13,000 the previous week, the Labor Department reported Wednesday. The four-week average, which smooths out volatility, rose by 1,250 to 239,750.

The number of people receiving benefits rose by 36,000 to 1.9 million, still near a 44-year low.

KEY DRIVERS: Applications for unemployment benefits are a proxy for layoffs. The level of unemployment benefits has been below 300,000 for more than two years, a stretch not equaled in more than four decades.

The government reports that claims processing continues to be disrupted in the Virgin Islands but the ability to take claims has improved in Puerto Rico. Both islands were devastated by hurricanes earlier this year.

THE TAKEAWAY: The weekly unemployment benefits report suggests that the economic recovery that began in mid-2009 is steaming ahead. Employers added 261,000 jobs in October as the unemployment rate fell to 4.1 percent.

The economy, as measured by the gross domestic product, grew at a 3 percent rate in the July-September quarter after a 3.1 percent pace in the second quarter. It marked the first back-to-back quarterly gains of 3 percent or better in three years.

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